It’s Happening – Sunshine, Warmth and Foliage

it’s happening – sunshine, warmth and foliage

Sneak Peek

It’s hard to describe how you feel when after bitter cold, snow and ice, you finally get sunshine warmth, and foliage on your bonsai!

It’s Happening – Sunshine, Warmth and Foliage

It’s so great to finally be getting some sunshine, warmth and foliage on my trees! So great, in fact, that I just wanted to post a quick blog featuring a few Huckleberries, which have beaten all of my other species to the punch this year (even the Chinese elms, which are certainly not far behind).

I potted this one recently and posted a blog about it. Today it’s up for sale at our Shop.

I’ve kept you updated on this specimen as it’s developed over the past few years. There are fewer blossoms this year, but that’s fine – I’m looking for more ramification and development of that leader on the right-hand trunk.

It’s year two for this big one. I love how the foliage is a mixture of green and magenta. Very inspiring at this time of year. Not to mention it’s got a good show of blossoms.

If you haven’t tried Huckleberry (or any of the Blueberries) as bonsai, I can’t recommend them more highly.

Huckleberries Leafing Out, And Freeze Protection

huckleberries leafing out, and freeze protection

Sneak Peek

Not only are my Huckleberries opening flower buds, they’re also starting to leaf out. Here comes the coldest night of the year so far!

Huckleberries Leafing Out, and Freeze Protection

Recently I wrote about the faithful Huckleberry, which in the gloomiest time of the year starts opening flower buds.

While that is all well and good, and appears to be as natural as can be, today I was out checking on my trees and I noticed that all of my Huckleberries are starting to leaf out! Ordinarily I’d be writing this in great excitement, wondering if an early spring is in the offing, but in about a week we’re going to get our coldest night of the year!

Here you can see pretty well the new leaves that are just starting to appear.

And more over on the other trunk.

We’re forecast to have a night in the mid-20’s a week from now, and that takes me into one of my danger zones temperature-wise. For all of my temperate-zone trees, the cutoff point for staying on the bench is about 27F (with one exception – see below). Below that point, it’s time for my trees to start going on the ground. As I was mentioning this to Cathy over coffee, it occurred to me that I’ve never laid out my guidelines for protecting trees in a blog (at least not that I can recall). So here goes. Bear in mind that, first of all, the lowest temperature we’ve experienced in my current location is 15F (over a couple of days, with temps not getting above about 25). Normally in the course of the winter we range down to about 28 or so, a few times spaced weeks apart, with maybe 5-10 nights below freezing overall. The low temps only persist for four or five hours, and then we’re back above freezing. So our winter weather is truly mild (though I hate the cold and it’s hard for me to admit that).

A list of species and what I’ve experienced (your mileage may vary):

  • Bald cypress – did fine on the bench at 15F frozen in blocks of ice for a couple of days; but go on the ground under 27F
  • Crape myrtle – also did fine on the bench at 15F; go on the ground under 27F
  • Beech – was killed at 15F (despite the fact that the species ranges all the way to Canada naturally); go on the ground under 27F
  • Water-elms – all killed at 15F except for one large specimen in a large tub; this species is more cold-sensitive than my other temperate-zone trees, so they go on the ground under 30F
  • American elm – did fine on the bench at 15F; go on the ground under 25F (this species also ranges to Canada)
  • Winged elm – had at least one die at 15F; go on the ground under 27F
  • Chinese elm – a very small specimen survived 15F on the bench frozen in ice (I was amazed); go on the ground under 27F
  • Cedar elm – no data at 15F but they have done fine at 17F; but still go on the ground under 27F
  • Hawthorns – survived 15F on the bench; go on the ground under 27F
  • Sweetgum – survived on the bench at 15F (very surprising); go on the ground under 27F
  • Roughleaf dogwood – survived on the bench at 15F frozen in ice; lost two on the bench in a later season at 22F thinking they should be all right; now go on the ground under 27F
  • Oaks – mixed bag here, lost one or more Water oaks on the bench at 15F, my specimen Willow oak survived 15F frozen in ice; all go on the ground now under 27F
  • Chinese privet – lost at least one on the bench at 15F (died back significantly); go on the ground below 27F

You probably noticed that my magic temperature number is 27F for most everything. As I said, our lows only persist (typically) for 4-5 hours and this cutoff has proven safe for me. If where you are you experience sub-freezing weather with no warmup for several days, you may need to adjust your practices accordingly.

It’s worth mentioning that whenever possible I will put my trees on the ground right under the bench in their individual spots. This provides not only the latent heat of the earth near the root zone, it also protects from radiant heat loss in the part of the tree above the soil. This is not always possible, of course, but generally speaking larger specimens have more cold resistance than smaller ones.

I also always make sure to point out that each of us has a mini-environment in our individual backyards. What works for one of us in terms of care – watering, amount of sunlight, winter cold protection – might not work for all of us. It never hurts to be cautious, even though it’s not fun moving a hundred trees around four or five times every winter. That’s part of the bonsai game, though, and if you accept that it is I can almost guarantee you fewer winter casualties.

Huckleberry Flowers – A January Tradition

huckleberry flowers – a january tradition

Sneak Peek

Huckleberries flower and fruit reliably in a bonsai pot. Because they flower so early, they help brighten up an otherwise drab time of year.

Huckleberry Flowers – a January Tradition

We’re getting closer to the official start of the 2021 growing season. While there’s not much cheer in the bonsai garden right now, one thing you can rely on in January is Huckleberry flowers. I collected this specimen in 2019, and the design is coming along nicely. Better yet, it’s loaded with flower buds.

They’re swelling now, and will start opening in the next one to three days.

Since it’s year three for this specimen, I know I can go ahead and pot it up for spring. First, though, a light pruning to remove some of the more rank growth.

If you decide to collect your own blueberries, you’ll find that it takes a few years to get a decent root system going. Like this. Huckleberries produce a dense mat of fine roots, much like azaleas do. (They are also acid-loving like azaleas, which is important to keep in mind when the inevitable droughts come.)

I did prune away some roots, as I had more than would fit in this bonsai pot. The tree won’t mind, since it also got some above ground pruning to balance things out.

You can see I’ve left the leader long, in order to thicken it and make the tapering transition look right. I may be able to shorten it next year; time will tell.

Another good thing about Huckleberries is that they produce nice ramification without much more than pruning. So once you wire the primaries into place, you can rely on grow and clip to complete your design.

Let me know what you think.

Huckleberry Flower Buds Are Setting

huckleberry flower buds are setting

Sneak Peek

With winter closing in fast, most of my deciduous trees are quickly dropping leaves. The Huckleberries are just about bare, but they’re also setting flower buds.

Huckleberry Flower Buds Are Setting

Winter isn’t all bad, though frankly it’s an upleasant time of year and I never look forward to it. Most of my deciduous trees are losing their leaves, with the Huckleberries almost completely bare. But there’s good news – this is the time of year when they begin setting flower buds.

Here’s a small specimen I potted just over a year ago. It has really put on some ramification this year. By next February, it should be full of blooms.


Here’s the after shot. I did some light trimming, removing crossing branches and shortening others that needed it. I also adjusted a couple of the branches slightly, to get the design back to what I had in mind when I started work on the tree.

Next came my large twin-trunk specimen. As with the first one, this one has really kicked in a lot more ramification. It bloomed some early this year, and next year looks like being much better.

A little light pruning, and we’re ready for 2021.

I’m still trying to decide where to go with the leader on the shorter trunk. Luckily, there’s no rush.

This twin-trunk is destined to be a literati bonsai. I just let it grow all this year.

Those low branches are now gone, and with selective pruning I have a shape in progress. The final design isn’t a mystery – the tree made that happen for me.

Finally, the large specimen I blogged about earlier this year. I only did minimal trimming on it. It needs to grow out all next year, to thicken the leader and all of the branches.

Huckleberries root slowly. A specimen this size will take up to five years to build a substantial root system, and it’s extremely fibrous like an azalea’s. Also like the azalea, Huckleberries need an acid soil. This is important to keep in mind during periods of drought.

Let me know what you think of these trees.

A Big Huckleberry Gets Styled

a big huckleberry gets styled

Sneak Peek

Huckleberries are one of my favorite species (actually multiple species) for bonsai. With small leaves, and flowers and fruit in scale, you can’t ask for much more.

A Big Huckleberry Gets Styled

On December 26th of last year I lifted this large Huckleberry (Vaccinium species). With a trunk base of 2.5″, I’m guessing this specimen is about 30-35 years old. I was able to cut to a fork and induce some nice trunk taper, and the trunk came with enough movement to make for a nice future design.

Huckleberries are easy to lift – I’ve had 90% success with them. So if you’re inclined to collect your own, you should be able to find one or more of the native species in your area as they are widespread across the U.S.




One thing to bear in mind about Huckleberries is that they root slowly in a pot. This is not a problem, you just have to plan your styling and ultimate potting work with that in mind. They have a fine root system, similar to azaleas, and like the azaleas they love acid soil. Also something to bear in mind for those periods where drought visits. Keep some soil acidifier handy, or be prepared to water with vinegar solution (1 tablespoon of white vinegar per gallon, once weekly during the drought, is usually sufficient).

As you can see, and as you’ll experience if you delve into the blueberries, they produce multiple buds/shoots wherever they come. This is common to many species, of course, and isn’t all bad. You get to choose from among slightly different possibilities, both in size and direction of growth.

So with this specimen I have a couple of chores today. I have to select strategically placed shoots/branches and cut away the rest, and I have to pick a leader and wire it up. Blueberries, bushes that they are, do not exhibit apical dominance. This doesn’t mean you can’t get a leader to run, you just have to encourage the shrub/tree to do so.

It’s always best to work from bottom to top, so here’s the first obvious edit – I need my first branch on the right-hand side of the tree, since the trunk line on this one runs from right to left. That low left branch had to go.




You can see here that I’ve worked my way up the tree, removing excess branches from all those clusters. This process took about 10 minutes altogether. But the result is worth it, because now we can see what’s going to be a real tree form when I’m done.

Finally, I wired up a leader near the apex. There’s some more wood above the leader, but I won’t do the angle chop until next spring to take advantage of what will be strong growth at that time for healing.

Here are the final edits plus a little more wiring and branch positioning. You may have noticed that the Huckleberry produces naturally horizontal branches (along with some that want to point a little upward or downward). This really facilitates your styling work. In this case of this specimen, I’m well on my way to a good design thanks in large part to the growth habit of the species.

I’m a big proponent of blueberry bonsai, and I encourage you to collect or acquire at least one specimen. I’ll be offering this one and a few others in Spring 2021.


How about another Spekboom? This is one I started last year, and I left it alone until recently to grow out enough so I could start a somewhat larger bonsai with it. Today I did some strategic pruning to get the design under way. In 2021, this one is really going to develop nicely.

In this awesome reverse progression you can see where I started with this one a month ago. (The rocks are there to help stabilize the tree.) It has already put on new growth, so today’s editing was a next necessary step.

Let me know what you think of today’s show and tell.


Huckleberry #5 Progression

Zach’s Personal Collection

huckleberry #5

Zach’s Personal Collection

Progression Carousel

Huckleberry #5



The image has an arrow on both the right and left side.

Click the arrow on the right ( > ) to go forward and see the next image(s) in the progression.

Click the arrow on the left ( < ) to go back and see the previous image(s) in the progression.


Want to read a quick synopsis about each image on the carousel? Scroll down for more …




Updates are in date order beginning with the first date Zach began documenting the progression.


Now here’s the way to start a great bonsai – a great trunk.


Here’s the first photo of an exciting Huckleberry, Vaccinium species, collected earlier in the year. It’s one of those trees that give you an immediate “bonsai” impression, even if it only has a few thin branches here and there. That, of course, is just a hint of things to come.


(1 of 2)

I’ve done some work on the leaders, including shortening the one on the left-hand trunk and carving the one on the right-hand trunk. You can also see that I’ve done some carving on two of the thicker forks on the left-hand trunk.


(2 of 2)

Wiring and positioning branches is essential. Fortunately, I have plenty to work with. In about a half-hour, I have a nice basic structure to work from.

On the right-hand trunk, I’m not sure at this stage which leader I’ll ultimately use, so I’ve given myself two choices. This is true of a lot of bonsai we work on; we don’t always know which branch or leader will work down the road, so whenever possible it’s best to leave ourselves choices.


(1 of 2)

This is just what I wanted to see this tree do – the growth is lush! That also tells me I’m getting root growth, and that’s what will ultimately power this bonsai to be.


(2 of 2)

After a good pruning, it’s easy to see the structure that’s developing.


Here’s the end of season shot. I’ve done some more work on the right-hand leader, which includes carving the transition down and treating it with PC Petrifier to preserve the wood. This tree is getting close to ready for a bonsai pot, so the potting angle has been established which also prompts me to bring the right-hand leader closer to a final decision. You can see I’ve wired up my likely candidate, and put some movement into it in preparation.

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